Richard North, 19/08/2020  

It's got so bad that, instead of watching the news the other night, I ended up watching a re-run of Das Boot while eating my evening meal. There are only so many times you can watch wailing teens, complaining about the grades they got for exams they didn't actually take, even if some (but not all of them) may be justified in lamenting the injustices done to them.

Left without alteration, the debacle would have excluded a number of young aspirants from university who deserved to be there, but the corrective mechanism has ensured that a number of those who would not have qualified, will get places they don't deserve – and may then have difficulty completing their courses. In effect, one debacle has been traded for another.

But that seems to be the story of this government. Its dreams of world-beating performance have narrowed down to one category: incompetence. In this, and this alone, it seems to be without parallel, going from failure to failure with an elan which defies explanation. Any other body might be ashamed of itself and show some remorse, but not the Johnson administration. It seems proud of its failures.

It seems pointless even enumerating its failures: challenges merely elicit floods of Soviet-style tractor production statistics, or meaningless, brain-rotting blather.

For instance, when the idiot Hancock was asked what qualified serial failure Dido Harding for her new job as head of the as yet unfinished National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP), he proved the point with his non-answer: "I have no doubt that under Baroness Harding, we will found the NIHP as a thriving mission-driven organisation".

Such contempt do these people have for the ordinary conventions of decency and honesty that they can't even be bothered to fabricate plausible excuses. Any old soundbite will do. They know they can get away with rubbish, so they do. Certainly, the broadcast media will never challenge them and they can ignore the newspapers – as does everybody else.

As for parliament, it has driven itself into irrelevance. I was asked yesterday whether it was still sitting, or whether MPs are on holiday. Of course they are on holiday, but I had to think a moment before answering, and I couldn't tell you when they went into recess. I doubt I will notice when they come back.

We have, therefore – from the perspective of a student of such things – an interesting development. We have truly arrived at (then) Quintin Hogg's "elective dictatorship", and have ceased in all respects to be a functioning democracy. And, when the alternative to this government is equally dire – if not more so – we cannot even look to the next general election for any relief.

Doubtless, this is what shapes the attitude of the current administration. Ministers know that the next election is not until May 2024 – thre-and-a-half years away and a lifetime in political terms, when a week is a long time. And they have the core support of their Brexiteer fanbase, for whom they can do no wrong.

Some pundits, though, are suggesting that the exam grades debacle may prove to be this government's ERM or poll tax. But memories are short and voters are fickle. What dominates the headlines now may be long-forgotten by 2024, while Labour will probably be as dire then as it is now. This is a party which has lost its rationale and no longer has a reason to exist.

Unless or until we see a major realignment of politics, therefore, we are unlikely to see a credible alternative to the Tories. It is a pity that the monstrous Farage drove Ukip into the ground. Perhaps there could have been the makings of a new opposition party there. But he has destroyed any hopes of that happening, and the Lib-Dems no longer fulfil the function of a protest party.

But then, there is always the dictum of "events, dear boy, events". For any government in power, the auguries would not look good. With this government, bestowed with its unique brand of all-embracing incompetence, virtually any event could drive it off course – as we have just seen.

Given that the Covid-19 epidemic is not over, and there are a number of scenarios where it could get considerably worse, there is every reason to expect that vesting the management of the government response in the hands of a serial failure can bring them nothing but woe.

So far, the government has escaped remarkable lightly from its crass handling of the epidemic, but people are wearying and the full economic impact has yet to take effect. And although the Bank of England recently improved its prediction for the UK economy, I think its (measured) optimism is ill-founded, especially when it talks about recovery.

What I don't think has been fully appreciated is that the economy is undergoing fundamental change, akin to a revolution. Any number of worker drones have discovered that there are better things in life than being a wage slave, chained to an expensive commute, and an expensive life-style which is barely covered by the remuneration received.

Such people are vital for a consumer-led economy, buying massive quantities of unnecessary goods to keep the mighty GDP machine buoyant and in a state of growth. But as people discover for themselves that the treadmill is not a necessary part of their lives, the collective effect will make GDP a meaningless measure of national activity.

It will, of course, be a long time before the pundits even begin to realise what is happening, by which time the new economy will make existing measurement tools irrelevant. But that will not be before we have seen governments break themselves on the wheel of conventional economics, attempting to repair that which is irrevocably broken.

Change will, of course, be expedited by the twin drivers of Covid-19 and Brexit. Already, we are seeing a contraction of global trade, but also significant drops in EU intra-community trade. The world is closing in on itself and, more than ever, nations are looking to their own borders and their own internal resources.

When TransEnd finally comes – with only just over four months before we are there – we can expect to see a further contraction of trade, as between the UK and the EU. Whether that will be noticed is not a given. As consumer demand drops, we would have seen trade shrink of its own accord. Brexit may, therefore, simply reflect what was happening anyway.

But, if there is to be a new economy, there needs to be new politics to go with it. And there is nothing less appropriate than our current, centralised, London-centric merry-go-round. And if the decline of London as a city and commercial centre continues, brought about initially by Covid-19, then London as a political centre may also decline.

Whether that leads to a resurgence of local politics, though, is hard to say. The existing structure of local authorities is also "old politics" and few people are interested in the affairs of their local councils, or take the trouble to participate in local politics. Maybe we need to be looking at net-centric structures, where the mobile phone is the primary portal, and representatives are not entirely geographically orientated.

Of more immediate concern though, is what happens when the "old economy" fails to deliver and the politicians, mired in their own incompetence, are no longer able to assure a basic minimum of public services, while their tax base shrinks and their ability to influence events and shape opinion grows weaker.

As long as there has been recorded history, we have seen major changes in the nature of our politics linked to revolution or great events – like war, famine and disease (or any combination).

Currently, there are so many change drivers afoot that it is hard to argue that current structures are resistant to them. And the current inability of the government to govern surely has to be one of the most powerful drivers of change. But if there is to be revolution, it will be a silent revolution.

Where it will end up, though, is anyone's guess. My only sure prediction is that, within ten years, this will be a very different nation, in ways that we cannot even imagine. Whether this will represent an improvement is also impossible to predict, but I'm fairly confident that it will get worse before it gets better.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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